An investigation into a school laptop leasing scam highlights the need for head teachers to become professional purchasers, according to the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA).
BESA founded the annual, international educational technology products and resources exhibition BETT, which is taking place this week in London.
BBC Radio 5 Live has found that UK schools are being overcharged by up to 10 times for laptops and other IT equipment through mis-sold lease agreements.
Although only a relatively small proportion of school equipment is purchased through leasing arrangements, the lessons learned can still be applied to the increasingly common ICT service agreements, said BESA’s director general Dominic Savage.
He said: “Anything which involves a longer-term agreement we would say be careful, read the documents, and if in any doubt, get some appropriate advice.
“If we are being given the freedom to run our own budgets, we have a responsibility in how we make the purchases. Schools should take this purchasing responsibility seriously.”
In its investigation, BBC Radio 5 Live found that one affected school, Glemsford Primary in Suffolk, was offered 100 free laptops from a company called Direct Technology Solutions Ltd (DTS).
When the school said it could not afford the laptops, but accepted them when it was told that they would be provided free as part of a promotion.
The school was told to sign an agreement for EU regulatory reasons, which turned out to be a long-term lease agreement for the laptops with Clydesdale Bank.
But the problems did not arise until DTS, which covered the initial payments on the lease, went into administration.
As a result, Glemsford Primary owes around £500,000 to Clydesdale Bank after leasing the laptops with a value of £700,000.
An unnamed accountancy firm that is investigating the unpaid leases by schools for one of the banks that finances the leases told the BBC that Glemsford Primary is one of a dozen victims.
It also said that the school also owed so much for just 100 laptops because DTS had marked up the cost of the laptops by up to 10 times the actual value, so that they cost thousands instead of hundreds of pounds each.
“Whenever a school is approached and offered with something that is too good to be true, you can be certain it’s too good to be true and should be avoided,” said Savage.
He added: “If a school gets a deal offered to them from a company they don’t recognise the name of, take advice from a local authority solicitor.”